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POLICY WATCH

Focus Continues on Taxes, Broadband in 2020 Session

Capturing new revenue to reduce property taxes and improving access to broadband across rural Nebraska will once again be at the center of Nebraska Farm Bureau’s efforts during the 2020 legislative session.

“Last year, as part of debate over the biennial budget, the Legislature included $50 million in the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund,” said Bruce Rieker, Nebraska Farm Bureau vice president of governmental relations. “While we understand these incremental steps will not immediately address Nebraska’s overreliance on property taxes, we continue to embrace such opportunities and look for a more permanent solution moving forward.”

In October, the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board raised the revenue forecast. According to the state Legislative Fiscal Office, senators have roughly $135 million each budget year for the next three budget years to use for priorities like property tax relief and still meet minimum budgetary requirements.

“While some senators support providing additional property tax relief through the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund, others are focused on reducing property valuation and creating a new funding stream for schools,” said Rieker. “Either way, we are pleased to see so many agree that excess state revenues should be used for property tax relief.”

In addition to property taxes, NEFB supports implementation of many recommendations of the Rural Broadband Task Force, which was created to explore ways to improve high-speed internet connections across the state, especially in unserved and underserved areas. 

At a state Transportation and Telecommunications Committee hearing earlier this year, Jason Perdue, a York County Farm Bureau Member, told committee members that NEFB agrees with many findings and recommendations of the task force, including clarifying that internet service is an approved use for accessing easements and eliminating any remaining restrictions on leasing dark fiber, which some believe is holding up advancement of more public-private partnerships.

“Next generation precision agriculture tools will require a more reliable and high-speed Internet connection as a minimum requirement,” Perdue stated. “Given the remoteness of many high-cost areas and the diversity of needs, we appreciate the task force noting that a variety of technologies may be well-suited for serving rural areas.”

Ultimately, Perdue told the committee, NEFB wants to ensure the efforts of the task force, State Legislature and Public Service Commission are not unnecessarily burdensome or duplicative, but NEFB does support more comprehensive, accurate broadband service maps. NEFB also wants to see technology-neutral policies to address the cost and logistical problems facing rural broadband deployment in the most cost-effective ways and establishment of a subcommittee on agriculture within the task force.

Finally, NEFB will continue fighting any effort to restrict livestock development, such as the misguided petition calling for a statewide moratorium on livestock development.

Rieker says he’s looking forward to a productive legislative session.

“It will be interesting watching the body move through 2020 priorities, given there are still several bills being held over from 2019,” Rieker said. “We’re here to look out for our members and implement their policy positions. That’s why it’s so important Farm Bureau has a daily presence at the State Capitol.”

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